Let me share with you my top charity shop tips, for a more sustainable wardrobe.

Shopping for secondhand clothing is one of the most planet-friendly ways to dress. There are a myriad of benefits to the environment that buying used clothing brings.

In 2020, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated that the fashion industry uses around 1.5 trillion litres of water annually. What’s more, the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year. Concerns have also been rising about pollution, from chemical waste from the dyes used in clothing manufacture, to microplastics.

It’s never made more sense to shop secondhand.

My Top Charity Shop Tips For Successful Shopping

Image of a couple in a charity shop with a blue text box that says charity shop tips for buying secondhand clothes successfully.

However, I’ve you’ve never shopped in a charity shop before, then it can be daunting knowing where to start. As someone who has spent quite a large part of my life rooting around in charity shops, I like to think I know a thing or two about tips for charity shop shopping. Therefore, I thought I’d share my ten top successful shopping tips with you today.

Let’s dive in:

Tip 1 – Make A List And Do Some Groundwork

My first of ten charity shop tips is having a good idea of what you’re hoping to find in advance.  This can save you a heap of money, rather than just jumping in and buying whatever looks nice.  

I’ve made the mistake in the past of buying things that look nice in the shop, but when I got home I found they just didn’t go with anything in my wardrobe. This left me with a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear.  Now I have a firm idea of what I’m looking for. Right now it’s a couple of tops to go with jeans.  This means I can scan rails quite quickly if I’m in rush.

I’d also advise figuring out which colours and styles look good on you before going shopping.  I like patterns and strong colours – beiges and pale colours don’t suit me at all. Therefore I don’t waste time and energy looking in the beige aisle!

Tip 2 – Pick Your Area

Depending on what you are looking for, then you will want to consider where you are shopping. This is because different areas tend to have different characteristics.  In short, my tip is to be open-minded as to what charity shops you visit, but let’s have a look at the attributes of different areas:

Fancy Areas

I know a lot of people that like to stick to more fancy parts of a city or town when it comes to charity shopping.  There are pros and cons to this. Here you are probably more likely to come across designer clothing and items from the higher end of the high street.  

The downside is that prices tend to be higher.  You’re also more likely to find things in charity shops like Primark clothing marked up higher than they would be in Primark itself.  Additionally, you’ll be in competition with a lot more people, especially if you’re shopping at the weekend.

I have found some good finds over the years in supposedly fancy areas. However, I personally wouldn’t shop exclusively in them.

Less Fancy Areas

If you broaden out your search to less fancy areas, you’ll find a broad mix of high-end and lower-end pieces, and prices tend to be cheaper too.  I picked up this Jaeger dress for just £7 a few years ago in a charity shop in quite a student area of Edinburgh. It’s definitely not an area I would have associated with Jaeger dresses. However, it just goes to show you there are surprises to be found wherever you shop!

jaeger dress

The silk scarf was also a charity shop find – just 99p!

I’ve noticed in certain areas of town some charity shops have set up discount stores, where every item is priced at £1.  Unless I’m on a really really tight budget and am prepared to do an awful lot of rummaging then I tend to avoid them. My experience has been that stock that hasn’t sold in other charity shops gets sent here. However, if you’ve found an amazing bargain in one of these shops then do let me know as I’m prepared to have my eyes opened!

Rural Areas

An unexpected place where I’ve had a lot of luck, particularly in sourcing vintage clothes, are the charity shops in small seaside and countryside towns in the middle of nowhere.  Now, there are various reasons for this. The happier one of which may be there are fewer customers interested in vintage clothes in these areas.  I picked up this vintage leather bag in a charity shop in a small countryside town many years ago, really cheaply.  I’d go as far as to say it’s my favourite find ever. I personally love that it’s got a bit of history behind it.

charity shop tips

Tip 3 –  Pick Your Time

Another top charity shop tip is if you’ve got any days off in the week then these are great times to visit.  I have found great things at weekends. But more often than not, my very best charity shop finds have been on weekdays.  Particularly if there’s inclement weather. This is because fewer people are probably out and about, popping in for a browse. In fact, there’s probably quite a strong correlation between my best finds versus the wettest days!  Fortune favours the brave!

Tip 4 – Visit Charity Shops Regularly

I don’t strike gold every time I visit the charity shop. Instead, I pop in at regular intervals, say once a week, on my way home from work for a little nosey.  Stock changes on a daily basis so you’re more likely to find what you want by regularly looking.  Just stick to your list so you don’t go wild!

Tip 5 –  Be Prepared to Rummage In The Charity Shop

In normal shops, I do a quick browse. In charity shops, I devote a bit more time when I am prepared to have a good rifle through racks and baskets.  Charity shops often put shoes or bags in baskets. You can often unearth good finds if you have the patience to go through them all.

Tip 6 –  Examine The Items Carefully

No one wants to find their perfect item, only to get it home and realise it’s ripped, stained, smelly, or has got a faulty zip.  Whilst staff and volunteers do quality check each item before putting it out for sale, sometimes things do get missed. My tip is therefore to check carefully before you pay at the charity shop to avoid any nasty surprises.

Tip 7 –  Have a Rough Idea of Repair and Alteration Costs

In my student days, I made the mistake of purchasing a cheap dress with a broken zip.  Naively I thought I could fix it – completely under-estimating the level of technical skill required to replace a zip.  After sitting for nearly a year unmended in a pile, I took it to a tailor to get repaired.  Imagine my shock when I was told it would cost me £15 to repair a zip!

The moral is if you’re not handy with a sewing machine, then keep in mind the rough prices that alterations can cost. It’s such a top charity shop tip that is worth bearing in mind. This is because even basic alterations such as shortening trousers or skirts can run to around £10.  Your local tailor or alteration shop may have a price list online or have a leaflet you can carry in your bag so that you can check just what your bargain charity shop find will cost you overall, to help avoid any nasty surprises.

charity shopping guide

Tip 8 –  Check the Labels Before You Leave the Charity Shop

This is a really important charity shop tip. Especially when it comes to dry clean only labels.  Dry cleaning is expensive. My local dry cleaners charge £11 to dry clean a dress. And as dry cleaning isn’t particularly environmentally friendly, this is something to bear in mind too.

My charity shop Jaeger dress is dry clean only. However, at my own risk, I wash it in a cool gentle cycle in my washing machine, and it comes out fine.  I’m not saying this will work for every dry clean item – especially items with pleats or suits. Therefore, I can’t recommend it, especially on precious items of clothing.  

If you are willing to take a risk then either a cool gentle machine cycle or a cool hand wash followed by drying on a washing line or clothes horse may be ok. Do be prepared that you might run the risk of ruining something.  I do have a guide on how to dry clean at home to help minimise risk.

If you rarely have time for handwashing then also look out for handwash-only labels, particularly on woolly jumpers.  I don’t have time for hand-washing. Therefore, I do my hand-washing on a gentle wash cycle in my washing machine, again at my own risk. Here’s my guide on how to wash wool in the washing machine.

Tip 9 – Cast Your Search Further Afield

This is one of my favourite charity shop tips!  If you’re female, you can often find gems in the menswear section. Think belts, gents cardigans, and jumpers.  If you’re petite then check out the kid’s section too – teenage sizes go up quite large and kidswear is often priced cheaper than adults wear. You never know what you might find!

I also don’t pay too much attention to sizing.  Vintage sizing tends to run differently from modern sizing, and sizing can vary from shop to shop. Therefore, if I see something I like I try it on, regardless of its size.

Tip 10 – Give Back

Finally, like any relationship, you can’t just take take take without giving anything back.  My last charity shop tip is that charities are crying out for good quality donations and will happily take most good quality items you no longer need.  They do not want your ripped or stained or worn-out clothing.

If you pay tax then ask the charity shop if you can fill in a Gift Aid form when you drop off your donations. This means that charities can reclaim 25% tax from the Government, at no extra cost – making your donations go further.

More Shopping Tips

There were go – that concludes my charity shop tips!  There are probably a million other charity shop tips I could give you – maybe I’ll make a part two to this guide!  If you have any other charity shop tips you want to be included in part two then leave them below and I’ll be sure to include them, with credit to you!

Also, I’d love to hear if there are any items you wouldn’t consider buying secondhand?  I recently asked on Twitter and had some interesting responses – shoes (don’t worry, I’ve got an ethical shoes guide for that!), underwear, towels, and bedding were the most common ones!

If you’re missing your charity shop fix due to the pandemic, then here are some great places to shop for secondhand clothes online and for shopping for vintage clothes online. And related to this, here are my top ten tips for buying clothes on eBay.

All photos by Sam Williamson Photography.

Found this post useful?  You can buy me a virtual coffee to help support the site’s running costs.  You can also sign up for the free Moral Fibres monthly newsletter to get all the latest eco news and ideas straight to your inbox.